Vividly told, the interplay of personalities that would ultimately transform the world.




Revisiting the Manhattan Project and the production of the first atomic bomb—and the man who assembled and directed its cast of thousands.

Once again, the author mines the experiences of her grandfather, 20-year Harvard president James Conant, who also served as chairman of the National Defense Research Committee during WWII. Unlike her previous bestselling venture (Tuxedo Park, 2002), which revealed the obscure but fascinating Alfred Lee Loomis, Conant deals here with a subject and personality on which volumes have already been produced. However, by concentrating on the human aspects of the group—including some of the most brilliant and talented scientists of the era J. Robert Oppenheimer was able to cajole into spending over two years of their lives on a remote mesa near Los Alamos—the author is able to generate a spellbinding account of a venture that often teetered on the brink while the future of the world lay at stake. Oppenheimer is likewise shown as perhaps the one individual who could have pulled it off. Manhattan may never even have gotten off the ground, for example, had he not been able to talk crusty General Leslie Groves, the Project’s military overseer, out of swearing in every scientist as a commissioned Army officer and making them wear fatigue uniforms “while on duty.” He was an intense, engagingly intellectual motivator, but he was not, the author often points out, a paragon, easily capable of approaching hysterics in impending crises and unfairly deflecting blame on subordinates. Oppenheimer did, however, shoulder full responsibility from start to finish, which left him with the feeling, as he later told President Truman, of having “blood on my hands.” A high point here is the intensely graphic recollection by participants, including James Conant, of the Trinity event, the initial bomb test, where uncertainty was overwhelming.

Vividly told, the interplay of personalities that would ultimately transform the world.

Pub Date: May 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-7432-5007-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2005

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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